Houston: Latinos have opportunity to transform U.S. society

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Wed Mar 4 19:19:11 UTC 2009

Latinos have opportunity to transform U.S. society

Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
March 3, 2009, 8:22PM

San Antonio mayor and HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros recently surprised
the Washington audience at the launch for a new book he edited,
Latinos and the Nation’s Future, by declaring that the country’s first
Hispanic president “has already been born.” Of course, surprise is
unjustified. The inauguration of the first black President was a
tangible reminder for the entire country, and the rest of the world,
of what demographers have long known: The face of America is changing.
And the majority of that change comes from Latinos.

Just look at U.S. Census projections based on Latinos already in this
country and it becomes clear that it’s time to accept the premise of
inevitable and monumental Latino population growth. What exactly this
means for the future of the country is still uncertain. But here’s one
guarantee: The United States’ ballooning Latino growth will have
significant implications for practically all segments of social and
economic life in the United States.

Mainstream dialogue about Latino population growth has been dominated
for years by debates over immigration, much of it very nasty, and
completely focused on negative potential. But consider this — given
the falling birth rate and rising population of retired workers in the
United States, continued immigration is actually what fuels the
country’s economic engine and allows it to grow and expand. And let’s
not forget that it’s young Latinos entering the workforce as the
economy heals who will pay the Social Security benefits of our aging
population as they head into retirement.

It’s time to engage in a productive national dialogue about what this
Latino growth means for the country, and how it will inevitably shape
the American Dream of the future.

Here are my predictions:

While English will remain the “official” language of the United
States, Spanish will become the “unofficial” second national language.
After all, at universities, Spanish departments are already separating
themselves from foreign language divisions in recognition that Spanish
has always been an important language in this country, and has an
expanded role in the future.

As for the media — and this holds true for other corporate sectors as
well — economic growth will require accessing Hispanic markets. Just
look at Univision if you need proof of the economic potential of
marketing to the Latino population: The current programming
originating in Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, and the Spanish-speaking
United States, and distributed from Los Angeles and Miami, is
unrivaled by any of the English-language networks. If you are not a
native Spanish speaker you may never have heard of Univision’s show
Sábado Gigante, but it actually dwarfs shows like David Letterman in
audience size.

Latinos will also forge new paths in the work force. As long as U.S.
Hispanics remain disproportionately working class, they will ascend to
the leadership of movements for worker’s rights and unions, as well as
reform of immigration policy. Despite the high number of uneducated
Hispanic immigrants and natives, their children already make up the
fastest growing segment of college enrollments, in spite of unusually
high dropout rates. Their children are already on the first rungs of
the ladder to leadership in industry, entertainment, communications
and education. Soon, they will also become part of a rupture of the
glass ceilings in these fields.

The growing economic integration of the Americas will lead to cultural
integration as well: The history, culture and civilization of
Hispanics will increasingly be seen as part of the national American
culture, one shared by all. Of course, the rise of Hispanics into the
middle class will not be accomplished through the traditional path of
leaving the “old country” culture behind in order to become
“Americans,” purified through a melting-pot process. In fact, the
opposite will be true; a bilingual-bicultural citizenry capable of
navigating cultural differences at many levels will emerge. Dual
citizenship will be more common and university systems will expand
across borders to prepare graduates capable of operating in this new

Over time, American racism will no longer limit the access of
Hispanics to American opportunities, for their sheer numbers will
transform politics and policy, once the population reaches voting age.
But more important than demographics and voting power, Hispanic
culture has always fostered a dynamic of racial and cultural blending.
The Latino influence will further accelerate interracial and
interethnic marriage, and along with it the tendency to identify with
the rest of the countries and cultures of the Americas rather than
solely with Europe

Latinos have the potential to create a new society in the Western
Hemisphere that goes beyond national boundaries or cultures. This
society will be the inspiration for a New American Dream.

Kanellos is the director of Arte Público Press of the University of
Houston, and contributor to the new book Latinos and the Nation’s

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